Indicator Assessment


Indicator Assessment
Prod-ID: IND-197-en
  Also known as: CLIM 031
Published 20 Dec 2016 Last modified 04 Oct 2021
10 min read
This page was archived on 04 Oct 2021 with reason: No more updates will be done
  • The flowering of several perennial and annual crops has advanced by about two days per decade during the last 50 years.
  • Changes in crop phenology are affecting crop production and the relative performance of different crop species and varieties. The shortening of the grain-filling phase of cereals and oilseed crops can be particularly detrimental to yield.
  • Shortening of the growth phases of many crops is expected to continue, but this may be altered by selecting other crop cultivars and changing planting dates, which in some cases can lead to longer growth periods.

Trend in flowering date of winter wheat

Note: This figure shows the rate of change of the flowering date for winter wheat. The annual rate of change of the flowering date represents the trend coefficient for long-term changes in the occurrence of flowering of winter wheat in Europe. For example, a value -0.6 indicates that in last 30 years the winter wheat flowering date has been anticipated on average by 0.6 days per year (6 days in 10 years). The flowering date is derived from crop growth models simulating crop development of winter wheat as a function of the temperature sum. The simulation is based on the JRC-MARS gridded meteorological data at 25 km resolution.

Data source:

Past trends

Changes in the phenological phases of several perennial crops in Europe, such as advances in the start of the growing season of fruit trees (2.3 days/decade), cherry tree blossom (2.0 days/decade) and apple tree blossom (2.2 days/decade), in line with increases of up to 1.4 °C in mean annual air temperature, were observed in Germany during 1961–2000 [i]. Sowing or planting dates of several agricultural crops have advanced; for example, for oats in Germany (1959–2009), sowing has advanced by 0.2 days/decade, flowering by 1.9 days/decade, maturity by 3.3 days/decade and harvest by 2.1 days/decade [ii]. This indicates that factors other than temperature may be affecting sowing and harvesting dates, e.g. soil workability and grain moisture for harvesting.

An analysis of the modelled flowering date for winter wheat in Europe between 1985 and 2014 shows a general and clear increasing trend, which is most pronounced in north-western Europe (Figure 1). In large parts of Europe, the modelled flowering date has advanced by two to four days/decade. This modelled advance in flowering date probably exceeds what is observed in reality, as a longer growth duration will alter plants’ responses to day length and farmers’ choices of cultivars, reducing the overall response.


With the projected warming of the climate in Europe, further reductions in the number of days required for flowering and to reach maturity in cereals may be expected throughout Europe [iii]. Since many plants (including cereals) in Europe require long days to flower, the effect of warming on the date of flowering is smaller than would otherwise be expected. The flowering date for winter wheat was projected to show the greatest advance in western parts of Europe, with an advance of up to two weeks by 2050. The projected advance in the date of reaching maturity is greater than the advance in flowering date, leading to a shortening of the grain-filling period, which will negatively affect yields. One of the main adaptation options to cope with the shortening of crop growth phases is choosing crop cultivars that have higher thermal requirements, as this will reduce the negative yield effects of a shorter growth duration. In practice, this needs to be balanced against the need to avoid periods of high temperature stresses and drought. Breeding for crop cultivars with optimal timing of crop phenological phases is therefore a critical adaptation option [iv].

[i] Frank-M Chmielewski, Antje Müller, and Ekko Bruns, ‘Climate Changes and Trends in Phenology of Fruit Trees and Field Crops in Germany, 1961-2000’,Agricultural and Forest Meteorology 121, no. 1–2 (January 2004): 69–78, doi:10.1016/S0168-1923(03)00161-8.

[ii] S. Siebert and F. Ewert, ‘Spatio-Temporal Patterns of Phenological Development in Germany in Relation to Temperature and Day Length’,Agricultural and Forest Meteorology 152 (January 2012): 44–57, doi:10.1016/j.agrformet.2011.08.007.

[iii] J.E. Olesen et al., ‘Changes in Time of Sowing, Flowering and Maturity of Cereals in Europe under Climate Change’,Food Additives and Contaminants: Part A 29, no. 10 (2012): 1527–42, doi:10.1080/19440049.2012.712060.

[iv] M. A. Semenov et al., ‘Adapting Wheat in Europe for Climate Change’,Journal of Cereal Science, Cereal Science for Food Security,Nutrition and Sustainability, 59, no. 3 (May 2014): 245–56, doi:10.1016/j.jcs.2014.01.006.

Supporting information

Indicator definition

  • Trend in flowering date for winter wheat


  • Days/year


Policy context and targets

Context description

In April 2013, the European Commission (EC) presented the EU Adaptation Strategy Package. This package consists of the EU Strategy on adaptation to climate change (COM/2013/216 final) and a number of supporting documents. The overall aim of the EU Adaptation Strategy is to contribute to a more climate-resilient Europe.

One of the objectives of the EU Adaptation Strategy is Better informed decision-making, which will be achieved by bridging the knowledge gap and further developing the European climate adaptation platform (Climate-ADAPT) as the ‘one-stop shop’ for adaptation information in Europe. Climate-ADAPT has been developed jointly by the EC and the EEA to share knowledge on (1) observed and projected climate change and its impacts on environmental and social systems and on human health, (2) relevant research, (3) EU, transnational, national and subnational adaptation strategies and plans, and (4) adaptation case studies.

Further objectives include Promoting adaptation in key vulnerable sectors through climate-proofing EU sector policies and Promoting action by Member States. Most EU Member States have already adopted national adaptation strategies and many have also prepared action plans on climate change adaptation. The EC also supports adaptation in cities through the Covenant of Mayors for Climate and Energy initiative.

In September 2016, the EC presented an indicative roadmap for the evaluation of the EU Adaptation Strategy by 2018.

In November 2013, the European Parliament and the European Council adopted the 7th EU Environment Action Programme (7th EAP) to 2020, ‘Living well, within the limits of our planet’. The 7th EAP is intended to help guide EU action on environment and climate change up to and beyond 2020. It highlights that ‘Action to mitigate and adapt to climate change will increase the resilience of the Union’s economy and society, while stimulating innovation and protecting the Union’s natural resources.’ Consequently, several priority objectives of the 7th EAP refer to climate change adaptation.


No targets have been specified.

Related policy documents

  • 7th Environment Action Programme
    DECISION No 1386/2013/EU OF THE EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT AND OF THE COUNCIL of 20 November 2013 on a General Union Environment Action Programme to 2020 ‘Living well, within the limits of our planet’. In November 2013, the European Parliament and the European Council adopted the 7 th EU Environment Action Programme to 2020 ‘Living well, within the limits of our planet’. This programme is intended to help guide EU action on the environment and climate change up to and beyond 2020 based on the following vision: ‘In 2050, we live well, within the planet’s ecological limits. Our prosperity and healthy environment stem from an innovative, circular economy where nothing is wasted and where natural resources are managed sustainably, and biodiversity is protected, valued and restored in ways that enhance our society’s resilience. Our low-carbon growth has long been decoupled from resource use, setting the pace for a safe and sustainable global society.’
  • Climate-ADAPT: Adaptation in EU policy sectors
    Overview of EU sector policies in which mainstreaming of adaptation to climate change is ongoing or explored
  • Climate-ADAPT: Country profiles
    Overview of activities of EEA member countries in preparing, developing and implementing adaptation strategies
  • DG CLIMA: Adaptation to climate change
    Adaptation means anticipating the adverse effects of climate change and taking appropriate action to prevent or minimise the damage they can cause, or taking advantage of opportunities that may arise. It has been shown that well planned, early adaptation action saves money and lives in the future. This web portal provides information on all adaptation activities of the European Commission.
  • EU Adaptation Strategy Package
    In April 2013, the European Commission adopted an EU strategy on adaptation to climate change, which has been welcomed by the EU Member States. The strategy aims to make Europe more climate-resilient. By taking a coherent approach and providing for improved coordination, it enhances the preparedness and capacity of all governance levels to respond to the impacts of climate change.
  • EU Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) reform - basic regulations
    References to climate change particularly in Regulation 1307/2013 (direct payments for farmers), Regulation 1306/2013 (so-called horizontal issues such as funding and controls: Articles 12 and 93, Annex I) and Regulation 1305/2013 (rural development: Articles 5, 7, 15, 28, 34, 35, 53 and 55).


Methodology for indicator calculation

The map was produced based on the Agri4Cast database developed by the Joint Research Centre (JRC). The database contains meteorological data at 25 kilometres grid level, interpolated from meteorological station data. The interpolation is performed taking into account only arable land that is potentially suitable for crop growth. Crop phenology was simulated with the WOFOST (WOrld FOod STudies) model. The WOFOST model is maintained and further developed by Wageningen Environmental Research (Alterra) in co-operation with the Plant Production Systems Group of Wageningen University & Research and the Agri4Cast unit of the Joint Research Centre.

Methodology for gap filling

Not applicable

Methodology references

No methodology references available.



Methodology uncertainty

Not applicable

Data sets uncertainty

The effects of climate change on the growing season and crop phenology can be monitored directly, partly through remote sensing of the growing season and partly through monitoring of specific phenological events such as flowering. There is no common monitoring network for crop phenology in Europe, and therefore data on crop phenology have to be based on various national recordings, often from agronomic experiments.

The projections of climate change impacts and adaptation in agriculture rely heavily on modelling, and it needs to be recognised that there is often a chain of uncertainty involved in the projections, which range from emissions scenarios, through climate modelling and downscaling, to assessments of impacts using an impact model The extent of all these uncertainties is rarely quantified, even though some studies have assessed uncertainties related to individual components. The crop modelling community has only recently started addressing uncertainties related to modelling impacts of climate change on crop yield and the effect of possible adaptation options. Recently, the effects of extreme climate events have also been included in impact assessments, but other effects such as those related to biotic hazards (e.g. pests and diseases) still need to be explored.

Rationale uncertainty

No uncertainty has been specified

Data sources

Other info

DPSIR: Impact
Typology: Descriptive indicator (Type A - What is happening to the environment and to humans?)
Indicator codes
  • CLIM 031
Frequency of updates
Updates are scheduled every 4 years
EEA Contact Info


Geographic coverage

Temporal coverage



Filed under: climate, agriculture, atmosphere
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